By Alyssa Long

Los Angeles multidisciplinary artist Rafa Esparza spoke about the progression of his creative identity during an installment of the Fall 2018 Arts Colloquium last week.

Esparza’s performance art, often involving adobe bricks and Aztec dance, engages with topics such as indigeneity and colonialism as he critiques harmful power structures.

“Performance became my preferred form of inquiry,” Esparza told Art students and faculty in Embarcadero Hall, as he flipped through a slideshow that chronologically documented his striking performances.

In one project, with help from family and friends, he layered an obelisk with adobe bricks and performed upon it, dressed in traditional Aztec clothing.

Last year, in a project called “for you and the sky,” he built an adobe brick floor at the Santa Barbara City College Atkinson Gallery to represent labor, endurance, and indigeneity.

Esparza was inspired to use traditional adobe bricks as a medium by his father, who was once an adobe brick-maker in Mexico. In his talk, Esparza said, “I was interested in inheriting this legacy of labor. I was also interested in the kinds of stories and the kinds of conversations myself and my father could have.”

Esparza showed a portion of one performance in which he and a friend, dressed in suits, took turns knocking each other down and picking each other up. He said the scene represented “brown bodies, trauma, violence—how to care for each other and carry each other.”


Esparza also played a video clip of himself ensconced in a concrete pillar, chiseling his way out, in a performance called “bust: a meditation on freedom.” In this piece, he was positioned in front of the largest jail in the world: Twin Towers Correctional Facility. “This performance was as much about inviting folks to witness this action as it was about showing the architecture of the industrial prison complex,” he said.

Throughout the presentation, Esparza stressed that he has struggled to reach audiences who are not typically art gallery attendees, but who already exist in the spaces in which he performs. He has even requested that sponsoring museums not publicize a few of his public events.

“The neighboring community was who this performance was intended to be witnessed by,” he said of one performance in Boyle Heights called “no water under the bridge.”

The Fall 2018 Art Colloquium will continue to feature a new visiting artist every Thursday of the quarter, from 5:00 - 6:50 pm in Embarcadero Hall. Don’t miss the Nov. 8 speaker, Kota Ezawa, a multi-media artist who transforms videos, films, and photographs into sculptures, installations, and animations.

Alyssa Long is a second-year student at UC Santa Barbara, majoring in Communication. She is a Web and Social Media Intern with UC Santa Barbara’s Division of Humanities and Fine Arts